On Secession (or maybe disaffiliation)

 

At this point, most people would agree that the political divide in this country is wider than it’s been since about the Civil War. It has led to various people proposing some form of “great divorce,” where the US breaks up into several more compatible nations. It’s a bit like Federalism on steroids, where we formally break up.

A recent Reddit thread contained one such proposal:

The rules for this were that all states had to remain intact. The blowback was immediate, particularly in the case of Missouri. Is Missouri a southern state, or a midwestern state? Well, historically it was southern because it was a slave state (and its neighbor Kansas was emphatically not, which led to much misery during the civil war). Other maps like this exist, where Missouri is classified midwestern.

BUT… when you drive through the southern half of Missouri, it looks more southern than midwestern. Cotton fields instead of corn fields, for example. If you head a bit east, you encounter Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. I’ve lived in all three of those states, and you can see that the southern ends of those states are not standard cornfield midwestern. They’re not Deep South, but I would say they are Appalachian and rather different from midwestern.

But as you look at these states, there seem to be more intra-state divisions than can be accounted for in dividing up the US by state. I grew up in Pennsylvania and in that time the state was basically two parts: Philadelphia area versus everybody else. You can take Illinois and divide it as Chicago versus everybody else. Many other states have similar divisions. So it would be fairer and result in better groupings if we looked past the somewhat arbitrary state borders of today.

In 1981 I read a fascinating book by Joel Garreau, “The Nine Nations of North America”. Here is his map of what he thought of as a natural division of the territory where each division had more similarities than differences:

As you can see, Garreau also ignored some national boundaries, but we can ignore that part to look at how the US is divvied up. Ecotopia is pretty obviously a coherent place, and it neatly solves the problem of eastern Washington, Oregon and Northern California being outliers in their current states.

It’s a long way from 1981, so I would extend “New England” south to include New Jersey, Philadelphia and northern Virginia. But you could argue about a lot of the details and still appreciate the ideas.

So, this idea has been repeated a number of times, with varying results. Here is a 2010 version with little detail:

Here is a 2017 effort — this time with 11 nations:

This is similar in some ways to Garreau’s 1981 division, but more detailed by county. This is not practical in terms of defining each of these as a separate country (New Orleans and Miami, for example), but the “Greater Appalachia” is an interesting aggregation. But it is imperfect because the original designation of Appalachia went much further north:

I grew up up in the NW part of Pennsylvania, and I would agree that we were in Appalachia. This was more accurate than any other way of describing how the people there lived.

I’ve lived in quite a few places, and my experience would lead me to make boundaries that might not be the same as people who are looking at this “from 50,000 feet.”

But the bottom line, it seems to me, is that we are past the point of reconciling our differences, and something will have to happen to separate us. Federalism is fine, but what do you do with the large population in rural Pennsylvania governed by Philadelphia, or the people in eastern Washington or eastern Oregon or southern Illinois dominated by a big city? This is not working.

My view is that we need to figure out how to negotiate a divorce. Would it be easy? No.

But it cannot be confined to current state boundaries. Otherwise, the whole thing collapses.

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  1. Chris O Coolidge
    Chris O
    @ChrisO

    I’m tempted to think about city-states, like in the German Federal system. Chicago would definitely be one as its character differs from everything south of it save a statehouse and its supporting government campus and a university. Other possibilities may be Atlanta, Philadelphia, Austin, Las Vegas, and probably more but those are places I’m aware of that seem to contrast to a significant degree to their surroundings.

    The 2017 map is intriguing, particularly the I-80 Midlands corridor, but starting it in New Jersey? Maybe so. Where it really hits Indiana accurately, however, is those four northwest counties that are part of “Yankeedom.” They’re oriented to Chicago, for sure, but Chicago is a very different place than New York, despite that its residents would like to think it is not.

    • #1
  2. Globalitarian Misanthropist Coolidge
    Globalitarian Misanthropist
    @Flicker

    I would ask what the criteria are for what determines a homogeneous area.  And it seems to me that — along with the idea of producers and consumers; federal eaters versus local eaters — the areas that get the majority of their GDP from the federal government or not is the best indicator of loyalty to either federal largess or to broader local economy; and thus this determines the regional homogeneity, a sort of separation like the proverbial 47% who Romney described would never vote for him.  But cities are already showing that they will increasingly require federal bailouts and infusions of billions of dollars (if not trillions) in federal subsidies.

    And as for “divorce,” the best way to do this is cutting off the federal teat.

    This would either be done accidentally en masse by the government going broke such that it can’t pay it’s constituent populations.  But this would involve a severe financial crisis leading to creating more money and a prolonged hyperinflation which would affect 100% of the population and not provide any differentiation or divorce at all.

    The other way would be for states’ populations to stop paying federal income tax, cut off money to the federal constituent populations, and let city populations of people benefitting from the federal coffers sink or swim: either develop a good work ethic or move away to a “free state” which itself will eventually either sink or swim.

    I think the differences between the producers and consumers have NO overriding geographical significance.  Like a metastatic cancer within the body, the rot is everywhere.  And each tumor has to be gotten rid of, or the whole appendage or organ has to be excised.

    • #2
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Really interesting stuff. I love this sort of look at how people settle out. Great read and I hope it gets to main feed so I can share it with outsiders. 

    And

    Americans are not as divided as vocal minorities make it appear. 

    • #3
  4. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    Chris O (View Comment):
    Other possibilities may be Atlanta, Philadelphia, Austin, Las Vegas, and probably more but those are places I’m aware of that seem to contrast to a significant degree to their surroundings.

    The problem with this approach is that it wouldn’t be just these cities, but pretty much all of them. Even rural NY is very different from NYC and Salt Lake City is a liberal enclave in a conservative state. I’m trying to think of a large city (say over 500,000) that has a conservative mayor and city council. According to Ballotopedia, there are 36 cities in the US with a population of over 500,000 and five of these have nominally Republican mayors (Dallas, Ft. Worth, Oklahoma City, Fresno, and Mesa). 

    https://ballotpedia.org/List_of_current_mayors_of_the_top_100_cities_in_the_United_States#List_of_mayors

    These is one “Independant” (Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, but he is as Liberal as any Democrat) so it’s 31-5 and of the five I have doubts about the top 2. I’d also point out that four of the five GOP mayors are in council-manager cities where the mayor isn’t the primary power in the city, but rather the city manager is the actual administrator. 

    If we look at vote breakdown for Dallas and Ft. Worth the last few elections, Austin (Travis County Biden by 45%), Houston (Harris 13%), San Antonio (Bexar 18%), Dallas (Dallas 32%), and Ft. Worth (Tarrant 0.22%) all went for Biden. We are also seeing the suburban counties around Austin and Houston turning Blue (Ft. Bend 11%, Hayes 11%, and Williamson 1.5%). I grew up in Georgia and it’s a similar story. Atlanta dominates the state, but every larger city or college campus is blue and turning more so. 

    The divide in our land is on a urban/rural divide with the suburbs being the battleground where the people who don’t want liberal governance live when they have to work in cities. Frankly I think that Covid-19 and the work from home Renaissance it brought about is going to accelerate this divide as people are moving away from the poorly run cities to love in lower population areas.  Of course, as I see in my small bedroom community outside of San Antonio, those refugees of the cities (and in our case CA as well) show up and then vote for the same policies that forced them to flee. They may be more conservative than what they left behind, but they want parks, and more police and fire, as well as city services which all cost money. Then they want to enact restrictive zoning to keep out the Walmarts or Dollar Generals and in a decade or so, they are looking more and more like the cities. 

    Of course this urban/rural divide pits the mass population ce ters against the places where they get food, power, and manufactured goods from which would make a conflict difficult for the urban centers. Their populations are large, but their ability to project force is non-existant, especially considering that their large police forces are required to maintain control. The rural.areas are better armed and equipped to defend themselves, even against straight up military forces, assuming those people who are largely from rural areas are interested in actually fighting their own neighbors. It would be an interesting and extremely bloody conflict that most likely would result in mass famine more than anything else as city dwellers would flee the cities to find food and not know how to grow it, or preserve it. 

    • #4
  5. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Take the Swiss route:

    https://www.nationalia.info/new/10067/in-swiss-referendum-bernese-jura-rejects-separating-from-canton-of-bern-and-joining-jura-i

    • #5
  6. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    I agree with @bryangstephens; I’d like to see this discussion promoted to the Main Feed.

    I believe that dissolution of the Federal Union will happen ad hoc and informally, ahead of any formal succession process. The current status quo of unrestrained government spending simply isn’t sustainable. My question is whether or not the deep blue urban areas will find pathways to survive with the surrounding rural countryside, OR will the cities simply burn themselves out in a generation or so as the infrastructure and logistics networks crumble?

    • #6
  7. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    David C. Broussard (View Comment):

    Of course, as I see in my small bedroom community outside of San Antonio, those refugees of the cities (and in our case CA as well) show up and then vote for the same policies that forced them to flee. They may be more conservative than what they left behind, but they want parks, and more police and fire, as well as city services which all cost money. Then they want to enact restrictive zoning to keep out the Walmarts or Dollar Generals and in a decade or so, they are looking more and more like the cities.

    The last few elections I’ve been looking at the vote by precinct in Kendall County and generally the precincts where the CA immigrants live have actually seemed to go more strongly Republican.  The only two precincts showing high Democrat numbers are the two towns (one incorporated and one not).  What you describe where people want to keep out the Dollar General and regulate development doesn’t seem tied to a distinct political view – I see it just as much from hard headed old residents to newcomers like you’ve mentioned.

    And Nirenberg – grrr.  Just this week he defended his failed job retraining program.  All it needs is more time and money .  Again.  Of course.  

    • #7
  8. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    It’s almost possible to string together the counties voting for Biden in 2020 into 3 distinct regions:

    A “G” shaped region on the West coast curving through Phoenix, Santa Fe and up to Denver

    A “J” shaped region on the East coast from Coastal Maine to Savannah curving through Atlanta Birmingham Jackson and New Orleans

    A northern tier from Minneapolis through Milwaukee Chicago Detroit Cleveland Erie

    https://brilliantmaps.com/2020-county-election-map/

    For lack of better names it’s convenient to name them for the dominant interstate Highway in each section

    West = 5

    SW = 40/25

    South = 20

    East = 95

    North = 94/90

    • #8
  9. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Think we could arrange a trade with Canada?   They get the Seattle Portland corridor (it becomes Greater Vancouver) plus Vermont.   We get Alberta (they can divest themselves of those climate threatening oil sands)

    • #9
  10. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    One problem with those divisions is that we will not cede the entire west coast to the blues.

    • #10
  11. EJHill Staff
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    The idea that Americans will leave their homes, jobs and family to re-associate themselves politically is absurd.

     

    • #11
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    EJHill (View Comment):

    The idea that Americans will leave their homes, jobs and family to re-associate themselves politically is absurd.

     

    It’s already happening.

     

     

     

    • #12
  13. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    EJHill (View Comment):

    The idea that Americans will leave their homes, jobs and family to re-associate themselves politically is absurd.

    It’s already happening. Why do you think the red states are getting redder and the blue states bluer. Or is the out-migration of the productive class from states like California, Illinois and New York to Tennessee, Texas and Florida not happening?

    The vast majority of Californians moving to Texas aren’t progressives. They are center-right to right. The Big Sort is real and denying it is happening is absurd.

    Look up the Curley Effect.

    • #13
  14. EJHill Staff
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Seawriter: Look up the Curley Effect.

    Except it’s not. Overall, migration within the United States is trending downward, not up. The Census Bureau has tracked moving since 1948 and we peaked in 1984.

    When we move, and 4M Americans move every year (that’s 1.2% of the population), about half of those never leave their home county. And only 20% of those move from state to state. We may abandon the cities due to the Curley Effect, but we don’t abandon our home areas as easily.

    • #14
  15. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    This map is not a hypothetical map. Decisions involving land use in the red area are made by elected officials in DC, federal courts, bureaucrats, and pushed by advocacy groups, some of whom have never walked upon the land they manage.

    Endless lawsuits involving western lands and Congressional meddling from elected officials from tiny fortress states does not go unnoticed in the American West.

    Federal lands - Wikipedia

    • #15
  16. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Seawriter: Look up the Curley Effect.

    Except it’s not. Overall, migration within the United States is trending downward, not up. The Census Bureau has tracked moving since 1948 and we peaked in 1984.

    When we move, and 4M Americans move every year (that’s 0.000000012195122% of the population), about half of those never leave their home county. And only 20% of those move from state to state. We may abandon the cities due to the Curley Effect, but we don’t abandon our home areas as easily.

    While I think your point may have some merit, 4 million Americans is .0123 times of the population, or 1.2 percent.

    Some factors driving the tendency to stay put are home ownership, which is an enormous financial incentive to stay put, for one. Another is the shrinking US military cohort.  I can’t tell you how large the number of our fellow veteran friends who don’t live in their home states. What’s that old quote – “once they have seen Paris you can’t keep them down on the farm”?  I’m sure there are other but the Curley effect is clearly alive and well in CA.  Our local CA immigrants almost all move to rural Texas from urban/suburban areas of CA.

    Aside: one of James Curley’s sons was a  Jesuit priest teacher at my high school in Maine while I attended.  Probably 1973-74.

    • #16
  17. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    This map is not a hypothetical map. Decisions involving land use in the red area are made by elected officials in DC, federal courts, bureaucrats, and pushed by advocacy groups, some of whom have never walked upon the land they manage.

    Endless lawsuits involving western lands and Congressional meddling from elected officials from tiny fortress states does not go unnoticed in the American West.

    Federal lands - Wikipedia

    Part of The Republic of Texas’s voluntary annexation agreement with the US was that the Federal government wouldn’t own any Texas land unless it was expressly given to them by the state.  Probably the smartest thing in there after the payment of the republic’s debt.

    • #17
  18. EJHill Staff
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Tex929rr: While I think your point may have some merit, 4 million Americans is .0123 times of the population, or 1.2 percent.

    I should not do math on the fly. Thanks for the correction.

    Still, the stats do not back “The Great Sort.” And companies may move for political (tax) reasons and they may take their employees with them, but the employee isn’t always making the decision. 

    • #18
  19. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Seawriter: Look up the Curley Effect.

    Except it’s not. Overall, migration within the United States is trending downward, not up. The Census Bureau has tracked moving since 1948 and we peaked in 1984.

    When we move, and 4M Americans move every year (that’s 0.000000012195122% of the population), about half of those never leave their home county. And only 20% of those move from state to state. We may abandon the cities due to the Curley Effect, but we don’t abandon our home areas as easily.

    I guess that’s why California and New York will be gaining Congressional seats in the next census while Texas and Florida will be losing them. Because people aren’t leaving California and Texas.

    Four million is around 1.2% of the American population of 332million. If 20% are out of state moves that means just 800,000 are moving every year.  Since Texas alone gained 668,000 new residents in 2021 and 2022 and 494,000 moved out (a total of 1,162,000 over two years) apparently Texas alone accounted for three-quarters of the cross-state moves. Strange since Florida had more growth than Texas. (I know – most of those moves were between Florida and Texas. Nah. That math doesn’t work out either.)

    Also, the trend is accelerating. Texas had a net in-migration of 473,453 in 2023 – over half of the 800,000 annual out-of-state moves you claim are occurring. That was growth over and above people moving out. Texas was not the fastest growing state in 2023. Florida and South Carolina grew faster than Texas. 

    I think your estimates of trans-state migration are way too low. It certainly isn’t one fifth of 0.000000012195122% of the population.

     

    • #19
  20. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Seawriter: Look up the Curley Effect.

    Except it’s not. Overall, migration within the United States is trending downward, not up. The Census Bureau has tracked moving since 1948 and we peaked in 1984.

    When we move, and 4M Americans move every year (that’s 0.000000012195122% of the population), about half of those never leave their home county. And only 20% of those move from state to state. We may abandon the cities due to the Curley Effect, but we don’t abandon our home areas as easily.

    I guess that’s why California and New York will be gaining Congressional seats in the next census while Texas and Florida will be losing them. Because people aren’t leaving California and Texas.

    Four million is around 1.2% of the American population of 332million. If 20% are out of state moves that means just 800,000 are moving every year. Since Texas alone gained 668,000 new residents in 2021 and 2022 and 494,000 moved out (a total of 1,162,000 over two years) apparently Texas alone accounted for three-quarters of the cross-state moves. Strange since Florida had more growth than Texas. (I know – most of those moves were between Florida and Texas. Nah. That math doesn’t work out either.)

    Also, the trend is accelerating. Texas had a net in-migration of 473,453 in 2023 – over half of the 800,000 annual out-of-state moves you claim are occurring. That was growth over and above people moving out. Texas was not the fastest growing state in 2023. Florida and South Carolina grew faster than Texas.

    I think your estimates of trans-state migration are way too low. It certainly isn’t one fifth of 0.000000012195122% of the population.

     

    Are you including “migration” from outside the country for those numbers?  Or solely from one state to another?

    • #20
  21. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Are you including “migration” from outside the country for those numbers?  Or solely from one state to another?

    These were stated to be trans-state numbers. It could include those moving to Texas from another state after arriving in that state from another country.

    • #21
  22. EJHill Staff
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Seawriter: I think your estimates of trans-state migration are way too low.

    They’re not my estimates. The numbers come from the Census Bureau. You can call them nonsense but please offer a better set.

    But getting back to the original post, I don’t think enough of us are consumed by the philosophy of politics to push a breakup of the country.

    Who gets the military in this national divorce? Who gets the debt? And how much? Who starts from scratch and who inherits the existing American jurisprudence? 

     

     

    • #22
  23. Painter Jean Moderator
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    I believe the greatest divide is between rural vs. urban, and so while there are regional differences, I don’t think dividing into regions solves the problem. 

    • #23
  24. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    I believe the greatest divide is between rural vs. urban, and so while there are regional differences, I don’t think dividing into regions solves the problem.

    But consider that, in a way, it can be seen as ALL of the urban areas ganging up against EACH rural area individually, in certain elections and economic decisions etc.  If the regions were broken up, then it might be EACH urban area vs EACH rural area and the rural areas would have better odds.

    • #24
  25. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    I believe the greatest divide is between rural vs. urban, and so while there are regional differences, I don’t think dividing into regions solves the problem.

    But consider that, in a way, it can be seen as ALL of the urban areas ganging up against EACH rural area individually, in certain elections and economic decisions etc. If the regions were broken up, then it might be EACH urban area vs EACH rural area and the rural areas would have better odds.

    Tell that to any small European country with 5 million or less in population.  

    • #25
  26. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    I believe the greatest divide is between rural vs. urban, and so while there are regional differences, I don’t think dividing into regions solves the problem.

    But consider that, in a way, it can be seen as ALL of the urban areas ganging up against EACH rural area individually, in certain elections and economic decisions etc. If the regions were broken up, then it might be EACH urban area vs EACH rural area and the rural areas would have better odds.

    Tell that to any small European country with 5 million or less in population.

    It would be like current congressional redistricting, only worse. 

    • #26
  27. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    I believe the greatest divide is between rural vs. urban, and so while there are regional differences, I don’t think dividing into regions solves the problem.

    People on the east side of the mountains in WA, OR, and parts of at least northern CA would love to be out from under the thumbs of the governments running solely in the interests of the urban centers on the coast. There’s a natural region.

     

    • #27
  28. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    EJHill (View Comment):

    The idea that Americans will leave their homes, jobs and family to re-associate themselves politically is absurd.

     

    Outdated wisdom. The left is making the political personal for more people every day.

    • #28
  29. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Barfly (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    The idea that Americans will leave their homes, jobs and family to re-associate themselves politically is absurd.

     

    Outdated wisdom. The left is making the political personal for more people every day.

    Yeah, that sounded like something Andy McCarthy or Hugh Hewitt might say.

    • #29
  30. EJHill Staff
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Barfly: Outdated wisdom. The left is making the political personal for more people every day.

    I’ve passed this on before but it’s still the best piece of professional advice I ever got: The quickest way to ruin is to assume that everyone feels the same way as you do. That’s why globally companies spend $118B in marketing research every year (More than half of that spending is in the United States alone.) Ignoring that simple step is what got Anheuser-Busch in trouble.

    Headed West writes in the original post, “I grew up in Pennsylvania and in that time the state was basically two parts: Philadelphia area versus everybody else. You can take Illinois and divide it as Chicago versus everybody else. Many other states have similar divisions. So it would be fairer and result in better groupings if we looked past the somewhat arbitrary state borders of today.”

    But still, people in Harrisburg and Hershey and Lancaster wear their Phillies hats and sing Fly, Eagles, Fly and have an affinity for William Penn atop City Hall. And while they grumble about the politics of Cook County the people of Illinois wear their Cubs gear all the way to the Iowa border and beyond. There’s a lot more that binds us together as a nation and as regions than our politics and sports is only a fraction of that.

     

    • #30
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